One of the most celebrated events on the Irish stage of late has been James Thierree’s Raoul at the Abbey Theatre. Fusing dance, movement, performance and stories, Thierree’s Raoul captivated its sell-out audiences night after night for the duration of its run at the Abbey. Thierree’s credentials and his own amazing story add in no small part to his appeal. Born in France into a family steeped in theatre and circus performance, Thierree’s upbringing was far from the traditional and set him on the path for a life of entertaining and enthralling. What’s even more intriguing is that Thierree can count the comic actor Charlie Chaplin as his maternal grandfather and the celebrated American playwright Eugene O’Neill as his paternal great-grandfather. James’ own parents were vaudeville star Jean-Baptiste Thierree and dancer/designer Victoria Chaplin. Serious lineage indeed.
Starring at the Galway Arts Festival in July 2003, Thierree’s show, entitled the Junebug Symphony, was his first foray as a creator having previously worked mostly as an actor. The show was already a huge international success and was a highlight of the 2003 Galway Arts Festival. The festival archive contains detailed press accounts and interviews with Thierree, who described his show as being about “mood, visuals and being very free as a show”. There is no continuous narrative he stresses, where anything can happen and plenty does. “Everyone can make their own story into it”.
Given the instant and deep connection between Thierree and Irish audiences at Galway in 2003 and at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in February of 2011, It is interesting how these non-traditional theatrical works with no central narrative were so warmly received in Galway and later in Dublin. As I work my way through the Galway Arts Festival archive, I will post updates on further material from the James Thierree performances. Photographs, administrative material or any such records will be an incredible insight into the work of this man who grew up in a circus and lives on stage. If anyone has witnessed the 2003 production of the Junebug Symphony at the Black Box Theatre, Galway, or indeed this year’s performance of Raoul at the Abbey Theatre, we would love to record your thoughts and experiences here!